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They came, they tried to park — and they shopped.
Thousands of people flowed through the new Nebraska Crossing Outlets mall, which opened to the public Friday. If they couldn't find parking among the mall's 1,600 spaces, they parked on the grass, they parked illegally next to fire hydrants or on a highway shoulder or drove to the Flying J south of Interstate 80 and braved Highway 31 traffic on foot.
Sheena and Rodney Steele, of Lincoln parked at the truck stop at 10:30 a.m. after circling the mall and finding no place to park.
“I'm glad I didn't have my kids with me,” said Sheena Steele as the couple crossed the bridge over I-80, which has no sidewalk. “Tomorrow I can only imagine what it will be like,” Rodney Steele said.
The mall's management staff announced that beginning Saturday it planned to run buses every 15 minutes from Gretna Middle School, 11705 S. 216th St., to shuttle employees to and from the outlet mall. Buses are expected to start running at 8:30 a.m. to make sure employees can get to work.
“We have an employee that's been circling the mall for an hour,” Julie Miller, regional manager of the Sunglass Hut, said Friday morning.
Would-be shoppers began streaming into the mall as early as 6:30 a.m. to shop at new-to-Nebraska brands, including Michael Kors and Kate Spade New York. By 10:15 a.m., shoppers were carrying bundles of bags.
Throughout the day, lines formed at Coach, Kate Spade New York and Under Armour as the stores reached capacity. That still was the scene as 5 p.m., as more school-age people and families joined the mix.
Visitors also were greeted by a large sign announcing another new outlet store: Abercrombie & Fitch, opening next year near the Under Armour outlet store.
Developers Rod Yates and Frank Krejci cut a ribbon at 8:30 a.m. to signal the Gretna mall was open for business. Gretna Mayor Jim Timmerman, Omaha Mayor Jean Stothert and members of the Sarpy County and Omaha chambers praised the quick work of Kiewit and developers in completing the $112 million, 350,000-square-foot mall, home to more than 70 stores and restaurants.
Brad Stauffer, president of the Gretna Chamber of Commerce, told a crowd of more than 100 that the shopping center “just screams class and value.”
Stothert, in flats, joked, “I'm wearing my shopping shoes today. ... Nebraska Crossing Outlets is a good deal for our entire metropolitan area.”
Some shoppers took the day off or hired baby sitters to watch their children so they could explore the new mall or try their luck waiting in line for an hour or more to shop.
Becky Venteicher and daughter Andrea Fleck had driven from northwest Iowa, near Sioux City, to spend a day at the mall shopping. “We didn't really know what to expect,” said Venteicher as she and Fleck waited in line to get into Kate Spade.
“This is my Black Friday,” said Fleck, who hoped to find good deals. They had mapped out their route after Kate Spade: Coach, Oakley Vault, Carter's, “whatever we can get into.”
Friends and co-workers Amy Childs and Hanna Weaver arrived at 8:30 a.m. in time to find a good parking spot. By 11 a.m. the pair were weighed down with shopping bags filled with Coach handbags, jewelry from Swarovski and shirts from the Levi's outlet.
“Some of the stores have deals, and some really don't,” Childs said. They planned to visit Under Armour, Nike and Helzberg Diamonds.
Security staff at Coach, Kate Spade and Under Armour at 4 p.m. were allowing a few people in at a time. An employee at Under Armour said he called for backup help when a woman in line nearly fainted.
Mall developer Yates, head of OTB Destination, said several stores were running low on inventory and were already reordering merchandise to keep the shelves stocked. Yates said one store overnighted 30,000 items, the equivalent of more than 600 boxes.
The response to the luxury brands, as indicated by the lines that wrapped around the stores, “could bring more aspirational, luxury brands,” he said.
Yates has said he is already looking at expanding the mall by 100,000 square feet. “Got to do it,” he said. Even Yates was in shopping mode and bought new boots at Cole Haan, leaving his old shoes at the checkout stand.
Yates said the mall's goal is to rack up $45 million in sales by the end of December. He estimated that the first day's overall sales would exceed $1 million. The first sales report from the mall is expected to appear Dec. 10, he said.
Miller, the regional manager of Sunglass Hut, said the store had made its sales goal for the week by noon Friday. “People are definitely buying.”
At the Gap outlet, 40 of the 50 people hired were working Friday. Lines of customers snaked through the store for the fitting rooms and the six registers.
“It got busy as soon as we opened the doors,” said Amanda Coons, district manager for Gap outlet stores in Missouri, Kansas, Oklahoma and now Nebraska.
Dana Williams hired a baby sitter for her 3-year-old son, Grayson, so that she and her friend Kristy Pietro, both of Omaha, could spend the day shopping.
“My kids are at day care,” Pietro said. The two friends had already shopped at Ann Taylor and the Children's Place and now were looking at pajamas at the Gap.
“We got here at 9 a.m., and we don't have to pick up our kids until 5:30 p.m,” Pietro said.
Kim Loretta, the manager at Eddie Bauer, said warm shirts, fleece, flannel, down coats and T-shirts were Friday morning's big sellers. “People are excited that we're here. It's been a strong sales day.”
Scott Symington, vice president of real estate at Genesco Inc., parent company of Johnston & Murphy, Lids and Journeys, said sales at all three stores had been amazing.
Symington was surprised by the number of people that showed up for Nebraska Crossing's debut and the number of shoppers who had rung up purchases at the firm's outlet stores.
Genesco, Symington said, has 2,500 stores “and we really scrutinize and look at the demographics before we decide to locate somewhere. This place is great. I love it.”
World-Herald staff writers Paige Yowell and Barbara Soderlin contributed to this report.
Correction: A previous version of this story indicated the shuttle was for employees and shoppers. The shuttle is for employees only.